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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  WHUT  October 21, 2012 6:00pm-6:30pm EDT

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>> our guest today it is dr. seyyed hossein nasr, university of the islamic studies said george washington university. he is an author of over 500 articles and 50 books, including "the heart of islam." >> good to sit and talk with you once again. >> in the name of god, as we begin all things, it is wonderful to be with you. >> i am really excited to be with you because it is such an important time for us to relearn or learn about is on -- islam. >> it really is. the situation is such that in
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almost every situation there is an islamic element in the middle of it, so we're have been necessity to get to know about the complex situation in which it enters into various arenas, political, social, cultural, and religious, of course. it is a very important and difficult time in world history today. >> the word islam itself has a translation? >> yes, submission to god. arabic routes usually have several meanings of a clustered together. all arabic words are made of roots that are made up of usually carried letters. this also means peace. so it mean surrender to god, and the piece that comes from its. >> so the surrender and brings about the peace? >> exactly. >> that reminds me of buddhism,
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in a way, to accept that there are imperfections and suffering in the world. part of it is to mix of the reality of what is going on. >> of course, but other religions, ultimately, to submit oneself to the supreme reality brings peace. whether one is christian, muslim, buddhist, hindu, -- this is a central reality to have the submission over peace. >> is that at the heart of islam, this idea of submission and peace? >> moreover, in the koran, all religions are called islam ultimately, submission to god. abraham, christ, also called
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muslim. it is not onlythe prophet but these figures of humanity are also called muslims. it is a more general term, created by god, humanity. >> let me ask you this question. is there a recurring theme in the koran? >> yes, but i would say more than one recurring thing. the major thing is the continuous reassertion of god. the rejection of the every other thing taken for divinity.
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all of the different idols which human beings take for divinity, whether or not recall the models. the major theme of the koran is the return to the oneness of god, transcendence, love, all of the good qualities that go with it. >> you had mentioned idols, and i was thinking in my reading prior to our conversation, as the prophet mohammad, in that era, there was a lot of worship of idols? >> it depends on where you were in the world. arabia had been left outside of the grand currents of religion in the mediterranean world, although there were some jews
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and christians in the arabia. there have been allusions to it. but by and large, arabia itself had remained in the condition of the ancient forms of idolatry. >> when we talk about arabia, paint the picture, what countries are talking about? >> arabia means the arabian peninsula. today, we call that the arab world, those who speak arabic. from today, southern jordan, iraq, through the persian gulf, the gulf of oman, including the small emirates in the south, yemen, abu dhabi. >> why did islam catch on in that area? >> from a theological point of view, god only revealed where he wanted to reveal.
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why was christ born in bethlehem? why was moses not in china but palace dan, mount sinai? these are, of course, beyond human understanding. from the human point of view, this was a very untouched area of human collectivity, and in a sense, all of the idolatry, lack of celebration and sophistication that had come about in the mediterranean world with greek philosophy, a lot of rationalism, skepticism, me and listen, you did not have this in arabia. it was simple, but when people with noble characters, but from a religious point of view, they were idolaters. as well in arabic, this time is
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called the age of ignorance. they were ignorant to the nature of reality, of the one god. among them were some who were shipped the one god, including the prophet muhammed. >> we are speaking with dr. seyyed nasr, professor of islamic studies at george washington university. i must say, i know this to be true, one of the foremost experts on islam in america today and respected all over the world. you want to listen carefully. sit tight, this is -- "this is america and the world." >> "this is america" is made possible by the national education association, the nation's largest advocate for children and public education.
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poongsan corporation, forging a higher global standard. the rotondaro family trust. the ctc foundation. afo communications. >> let me backtrack. educate me. when i say dr. seyyed nasr, to conclude hossein -- >> hossein is my first name, seyyed is an honorific name given to my family. >> but the first name is important? >> yes, hossein is my first name. >> thank you. i will call you dr. as well.
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in islam, there is no picture of god, is there? >> no, and in this sense, it is similar to judaism. one cannot make an image of god. to make an image is to limit. you cannot have an image without limitation of lines, colors, forms, so forth. god is beyond limitation. >> wherever one is creating, it is there a feeling of an intellectual concept? >> it is all of those. first of all, is the presence, then a feeling, and then an intellectual point. sometimes a warmth, elements of nature that are symbolic of pretoria letties. but in give you an example.
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protestants also reject pictures of god. in protestant churches, especially lutheran churches, you do not have pictures of god. when a young boy praise to god, he does not have a statue of god in front of him, like a hindu boy praying to ganesh. i would not like to call it abstract. >> when you are in the mosque praying, do you actually feel god's presence? >> very much. a sacred place before god's presence. he sees us. although we do not see him, because there is no form, but we have form, and god sees us. for example, the power of vision.
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we associate vision with our two eyes, but god sees without having physicalize. muslims are aware of these realities would come to the human form and divinities. >> how do you combine the existence of god, how do you prove that to yourself? >> do you mean myself or muslims as a whole? for me, ever since childhood, the reality of god was evident. it was experiential. i experienced god in my life. even though i went to mit, harvard, studied religions all over the world, and jean-paul sartre, russell, god never left my world. there are some instructional support those who are not
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certain, and to think, to use their intellect. of course, we see signs of god's wisdom in creation. much in is in the tradition of the west. for a person of vision, the side of everything. they fly flying in the air. a mosquito, ants walking on the ground is proof of existence. the wonder of creation. everything is so wondrous. our educational system is very successful in destroying the sense of wonder. >> that is a whole other program. >> exactly. for example, we explained away so it is no longer a wonder, but it is still a wonder that a butterfly flies, the matter how much we talk about the aerodynamics and the wings.
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in our educational system, in the islamic world, the sense of wonder was always cultivated. from my childhood, when i had the sense of wonder, playing in the garden, i felt god's presence. i wonder has not been destroyed after studying years of years in science, mathematics. that always remained with me. >> you say about $1.5 billion muslims. do we know the real number? >> in the 1990's, the figure given was about 6,000,002 that was how the muslims also counted it to between 6 million and 7 million. then there was a new one that was given by pew or something
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and they said 2.5 million. i do not know where they got their numbers. >> how about we settle in the metal at five? >> no, there are about six, 7 million. you say there are 2 billion christians, but there are 50 million in france who are atheists. the catholic church has a billion catholics in the world. >> we will not get stuck on the statistics. >> there are muslims the to the practice. there are very few muslims have become a deists, much more rare than christianity and judaism, but there are some. there are some that are lax in their practice. do we call the muslim or not? do we only tell people that go to mosques? in essence, it is nebulous. just in the washington area, we have several hundred thousand. in the new york area, several million. i know that from knowledge of the mosques, leaders of the islamic community. in the los angeles area, easily
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over 1.5 million in the orange county and los angeles county. added together, very soon it will be much more than 3 million. i think it is around 7 million people. >> perception, reality, or myth? there is a war against islam. >> all three are true at the same time. certain people in the west are trying to carry out a war against islamic religion. in the old days, when is mum was politically important, you had christian missionaries. they had money from rich people in the united states, they go to the islamic world, and they would preach against islam. they were waging a war, not with guns, but by opening up hospitals, schools, it injections, hoping that people would convert to christians.
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>> why did people feel they have to do that? >> this is a character of christianity. christ said to preach to the nations. many feel it is part of their christian duty. christianity is a very mission religion. it became the religion of about the civilization and it started to do emissions more substantially. in the modern period, when france was producing voltaire, people like that, it was supporting missionary activity in northern africa also because of political influence. you have all kinds of very strange thing that take place. in modern times, talking about another kind of war. some people feel that islam is a threat to the west. that is absurd because the west
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occupy several islamic countries. i know of no western country occupied by an islamic country. if you know one, let me know. there is this fear about people coming over to take over us. there are elements within american society, more in western europe, but also in some countries like england, holland, france, that would like to carry out physical war against islam, destroyed its power, but that is not true for the whole of the west. >> when this film came out and there were these riots in different countries, people being killed, things like that, clearly, to insult someone else's religion is horrific unto itself, but part of the deal in the united states, crazy
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people get to do and say what they want under the heading of free speech. when all this happened, what was your reaction? >> i will be very frank with you. i live in this country, i know this country well. of course, freedom of speech is an important right, but it is not absolute. if you go to a washington cinema and you scream fire and there is a stampede and two people are killed, you will go to prison. or on a more practical level, suppose there was a hate speech in new york, calling the arabs savages. same things were done against the jews. god forbid. would that ever be allowed? no. some people have tried, and their freedom of speech stops
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some place. it is not complete freedom of speech. even if we do accept freedom of speech, another issue which is very sensitive and tragic, and said -- i do not care if those atheists in france with no religion who wanted to destroy the religion, the inner urge, which many atheists have. but to have questions -- christians burn the koran or destroying a likeness of prophet, what ever happened to charity? the singing the national anthem of bolivia, i am causing pain to thousands of people supposedly. why am i doing that? what happened to human compassion? what happened to love? the third point, which is most
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important of all, which no one brought up in any of the the base in the media as far as i could see, there was a day in the west where if you offended christ or the pope, you would be guilty or burned at the stake in minutes. at the time, western civilization was sacred. you have the 100 years war. we do not talk about divine rights anymore. we only think of human rights. in the streets of washington, if you curse at, or christ, nobody cares, but if you offend someone walking down the street, hate speech, you go to prison. that is the truth of the matter. so far so good.
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every civilization should have the right to decide what course to take. but the next step is what is not acceptable. people in the west to say, what are muslims offended? they are following the logic of things a purely colonial view. what we do is right. since we decided to put god inside and vacuum is the center of existence, we imprison people for consulting human beings but not god, you must do the same thing. if you do not do the same thing, if you get angry, you are backward savages, medieval, all of the things the people they against the islamic world. >> let me ask you this question, and i hear what you are saying. if the rule should be respect and tolerance for's respecting the religion of islam, and
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realizing the sensitivity is there, and that the two cultures may clash on this point, do we not have a right to expect that when someone does something and steps out of line and does one of these horrific films or speeches or whatever, that on the other side of the ocean, that those countries will be angry, call us to task if it is us for any western culture, but not explode into riots and killing? is that not a reasonable expectation? >> no. >> please tell me why. >> when emotions arise, a
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foreign country cannot set limits on excitement and emotion of another country. how many hooligans have killed people at the soccer riots in england? could pakistan set a limit for excitement at football matches but do not go beyond? that is an absurd. people have great love for the prophet. it is not personal. if someone curses at them, they say they should not -- >> this is crucial for our conversation. what you are saying is that it is so important to a muslim, this concept of god -- >> and the holiness of the prophet, and all prophets -- >> no matter how you slice and dice it, it is unacceptable --
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>> it is going to cause pain. form the most part, that pain is not expressed in the streets. even those not in the streets suffered. >> but that is just going to happen again. >> i know, that is an unfortunate thing. every time they do this, you are killing yourself. >> doesn't give the religion a bad name? >> that does not matter. religion does not receive a bad name in this way. receives a bad name by some person making a pornographic film about religion. some ignorant person in georgia who may do some strange thing. that is the point. the point is more profound than that.
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the point is, in the state of the islamic world today, where faith is still very strong, where only 10% of people in france could to church, only 6 percent in england, 95% of people in cairo go to friday prayers. whether we like it or not, that is the situation of the world. in that situation, to consult openly what is sacred to that society, and you feel you can do whatever you want, that cannot go without consequences. >> doctor, thank you for the education once again. >> great to be with you. thank you. >> for information on my new book "the chance of a lifetime" and for all online video, visit our website, thisiamerica.net.
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and now you can follow us on facebook. "this is america" is made possible by -- the national education association, the nation's largest advocate for children and public education. poonsang corporation, forging a higher global standard. the ctc foundation, afo communications, and the rotondaro family trust.
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